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In situ bacterial colonization of compacted bentonite under deep geological high-level radioactive waste repository conditions

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Subsurface microorganisms are expected to invade, colonize, and influence the safety performance of deep geological spent nuclear fuel (SNF) repositories. An understanding of the interactions of subsurface dwelling microbial communities with the storage is thus essential. For this to be achieved, experiments must be conducted under in situ conditions. We investigated the presence of groundwater microorganisms in repository bentonite saturated with groundwater recovered from tests conducted at the Äspö underground Hard Rock Laboratory in Sweden. A 16S ribosomal RNA and dissimilatory bisulfite reductase gene distribution between the bentonite and groundwater samples suggested that the sulfate-reducing bacteria widespread in the aquifers were not common in the clay. Aerophilic bacteria could be cultured from samples run at ≤55°C but not at ≥67°C. Generally, the largely gram-negative groundwater microorganisms were poorly represented in the bentonite while the gram-positive bacteria commonly found in the clay predominated. Thus, bentonite compacted to a density of approximately 2 g cm−3 together with elevated temperatures might discourage the mass introduction of the predominantly mesophilic granitic aquifer bacteria into future SNF repositories in the long run.

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This work was funded by grants from the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company to Professor Karsten Pedersen of Göteborg University Sweden. We are deeply indebted to Dr. Sara Eriksson and the staff of Microbial Analytics AB Sweden for the culture preparations.

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Correspondence to E. Chi Fru.

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Chi Fru, E., Athar, R. In situ bacterial colonization of compacted bentonite under deep geological high-level radioactive waste repository conditions. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 79, 499–510 (2008).

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  • Clay buffer
  • Spent nuclear fuel
  • Subsurface
  • Äspö
  • Granitic aquifers
  • Groundwater